Monday, June 23, 2008

Pg. 99: Barry Siegel's "Claim of Privilege"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Barry Siegel's Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, a Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the tradition of A Civil Action and Gideon's Trumpet, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barry Siegel unfolds the shocking true story behind the Supreme Court case that forever changed the balance of power in America.

On October 6, 1948, a trio of civilian engineers joined a U.S. Air Force crew on a B-29 Superfortress, whose mission was to test secret navigational equipment. Shortly after takeoff the plane crashed, killing all three engineers and six others. In June 1949, the widows of the engineers filed suit against the government. What had happened to their men? they asked. Why had these civilians been aboard an Air Force plane in the first place?

But the Air Force, at the dawn of the Cold War, refused to hand over the accident reports and witness statements, claiming the documents contained classified information that would threaten national security. The case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which in 1953 sided with the Air Force in United States v. Reynolds. This landmark decision formally recognized the "state secrets" privilege, a legal precedent that has since been used to conceal conduct, withhold documents, block troublesome litigation, and, most recently, detain terror suspects without due-process protections.

Even with the case closed, the families of those who died in the crash never stopped wondering what had happened in that B-29. They finally had their answer a half century later: In 2000 they learned that the government was now making available the top-secret information the families had sought long ago, in vain. The documents, it turned out, contained no national security secrets but rather a shocking chronicle of negligence.

Equal parts history, legal drama, and exposé, Claim of Privilege tells the story of this shameful incident, its impact on our nation, and a courageous fight to right a wrong from the past. Placing the story within the context of the time, Siegel draws clear connections between the apocalyptic fears of the early Cold War years and post-9/11 America—and shows the dangerous consequences of this historic cover-up: the violation of civil liberties and the abuse of constitutional protections. By evoking the past, Claim of Privilege illuminates the present. Here is a mesmerizing narrative that indicts what our government is willing to do in the name of national security.
Among the early acclaim for the book:
"Barry Siegel’s Claim of Privilege uncovers the mystery behind a famous Supreme Court case, reveals its poignant human cost, and offers a timely reminder of the perils of government secrecy."
–Jeffery Toobin, New York Times best-selling author of The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court

"Meticulously researched and compulsively readable, Claim of Privilege lays bare a government coverup more than fifty years ago that resonates today. Anyone who wonders how we became a nation at the mercy of an administration that can order wiretaps and brutal interrogation techniques with impunity needs to read this important work of literary reportage."
–Gay Talese

"Barry Siegel is a writer's writer. His scenes and characters never fail to fire the imagination and tug at the emotions. With Barry Siegel you don't read a story. You feel it. You live it. And you always want more."
–Michael Connelly

"Occasionally journalists like Joan Didion and Tom Wolfe come along...whose work transcends traditional standards of reportage and, when gathered in book form, earns for its creators a literary cachet as lasting as that of any author. Barry Siegel is in that league."
–Steven Kane, L.A. Style
Read an excerpt from Claim of Privilege, and learn more about the book and author at Barry Siegel’s website.

Barry Siegel, a Pulitzer-Prize winning former national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, directs the literary journalism program at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of six books, including three volumes of narrative nonfiction and three novels of legal suspense.

The Page 99 Test: Claim of Privilege.

--Marshal Zeringue